Beware of the Lone Wolf Terrorist

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Tensions remain high as the United States moves closer to the 10-year anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The threat of an attack remains real, although the nature of that threat has changed over the course of a decade. President Obama recently remarked on this phenomenon.

“The most likely scenario that we have to guard against right now ends up being more of a lone wolf operation than a large, well-coordinated terrorist attack,” Obama stated. The President’s remarks come on the heels of a security memorandum jointly issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI. The FBI/DHS memo outlines the increasing threat posed by “lone wolf” terrorists using relatively unsophisticated methods for doing significant damage to a community.

The FBI/DHS memo said that “Small-arms operations could be employed through a range of tactics from a lone offender—as illustrated by the recent 22 July 2011 lone shooter attack that took place in Norway—to a coordinated small-unit attack involving several operatives.”

The memo continued, “Recent lone offender attacks and plots in the United States and abroad illustrate the effectiveness of the small-arms tactic and the need for continued vigilance and awareness of this tactic. Attacks by lone offenders—which by definition lack co-conspirators, and therefore provide fewer opportunities for detection—may be more difficult for law enforcement and homeland security authorities to disrupt.”

These ominous warnings come amidst the recent tragedy in Oslo, Norway, and a near-miss repeat tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas. On July 27, U.S. Army PFC Naser Jason Abdo was arrested at a motel three miles from the Fort Hood military base. Abdo was AWOL and in possession of significant quantities of small-arms weaponry, ammunition, bomb-making materials, and jihadist literature.

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Abdo was brought to the attention of local law enforcement through the suspicions of a local gun store clerk, who thought Abdo’s demeanor and desire to buy large amounts of smokeless gunpowder were suspicious.

Abdo’s arrest only marks the latest in an increasing string of incidents involving potential lone wolf terrorists or small numbers of co-conspirators seeking to utilize assault-style tactics, akin to Anders Breivik’s attack in Oslo, to carry out terrorist plots in the United States.

As Heritage has pointed out, the U.S. has prevented at least 40 terror plots since the attacks of 9/11, several of which involved tactics similar to those seen in Norway. As more individuals compelled to pursue the aggressive machinations of jihad are inspired by the deadly rampage in Oslo, a greater number of these individuals will likely seek to repeat Breivik’s modus operandi.

The domestic law enforcement community, working with the nation’s counterterrorism and intelligence infrastructure, must remain ever aware of this increasing threat. This awareness must also extend to members of the general public, whose vigilance and knowledge of their respective communities can act as force multipliers in the challenge to uncover and inhibit terrorist activity.

Scott Erickson has worked in the field of law enforcement for the past decade and holds both his B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice Studies. He is a contributor to The Daily Caller and writes on myriad political, national security, and counterterrorism issues. His blog can be found at

The views expressed by guest bloggers on the Foundry do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heritage Foundation.

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